Distracting infotainment interface
The intervening three decades have witnessed 4 generations of the LS come and go. Generation 5, first shown in LF-FC concept form at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, was launched in 2017 as a 2018 model with a number of firsts: the first LS based on the GA-L platform shared with the LC 500, the first LS with an outer-sliding sunroof, and the first non-hybrid LS not powered by an 8-cylinder engine.
All-new last year and unchanged for 2019, the fifth generation of Lexus’s flagship represents a clean break from the model’s narrative of elegant, but somnolent, design. Longer, wider, and lower than the fourth-gen by an inch in each, a number of design cues are lifted directly from the breathtaking LC 500 Coupe with three-dimensional taillights that wrap around the rear fascia, folding into the rear quarter panels. A side view shows a steeper rake to the roofline and slimmer C-pillars that sport a small third window for better driver visibility along with subtle sculpting above the lower side sills.
Up front, the large signature spindle grille is flanked by narrow headlamp enclosures that house an array of upper bi-LED headlamps and lower LED ribbon lights. F Sport models like our tester are differentiated by a more aggressive front fascia, black mesh grille, stylized “F” fender badges, dark graphite wheels and side sill trim, and a unique rear fascia with an F Sport badge and a lower valance panel that features pair of outboard exhaust outlets finished in dark chrome.
Vehicles that occupy this rarefied automotive atmosphere are expected to have outstanding interiors, and the flagship sedan doesn’t disappoint. Step inside the LS F Sport and you’re greeted with exquisitely-stitched, heated and cooled, 28-way standard power front seats wrapped in soft leather with “F Sport” embossing on the headrests. Firm and supportive, they offer just the right amount of side bolstering for all-day comfort. A suede-like headliner overhead and aluminum pedals beneath that mirror a number of interior trim pieces and frame a lovely, horizontal dashboard with an imposing 12.3-inch infotainment screen and an LFA-inspired electroluminescent instrument cluster.
Beyond the focal points, the big Lexus sets itself apart by sweating the details and, although it may go unnoticed, embracing a cultural heritage that offers ambient lighting inspired by traditional Japanese lanterns, and optional wood, metal, and cut-glass trim selections which reflect ancient Japanese crafts.
As for the more prosaic elements, the gauges facing the driver as well as the various buttons and knobs are clear and easy to read, and front seat occupants will find plenty head, shoulder, hip and leg room. Three adults in back will find the same – although less so for those in the firmer middle seat. The analog dashboard clock is GPS-enabled - updating automatically when traveling across time zones, while the steering wheel features a power tilt and telescope feature with a 3-position memory function that’s also tied to the outside mirror and driver’s seat position (the front passenger seat has its own 3-position memory settings). The rear seat features a pass-through to the trunk and both outboard passengers have their own ceiling-mounted, drop-down, lighted vanity mirrors.
Thanks to a moderate cowl and beltline height, comparatively thin A and C-Pillars and lots of glass, as well as a water-repellent glass treatment for the front doors, the views out the front, sides and rear three-quarters is very good. Despite a high decklid, the large rear window along with a standard rearview camera make for little drama when backing up.
At the same time, the lack of touch functionality for the infotainment screen that, instead, relies on a distracting, laptop-like touchpad is a major faux pas in what is otherwise a cabin that offers class-leading ergonomics.
The LS 500’s standard equipment includes the requisite leather, memory, and power bits along with a heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, power trunk open and close, navigation, premium sound, Apple CarPlay, smart watch, and Alexa Skill capabilities, Sirius XM radio with travel suite, auto door closers, proximity key with push button start, and a tilt and slide sunroof.
In addition to the exterior styling cues, F Sport models receive 20-inch alloy wheels, a lowered, adaptive variable suspension, LFA-inspired sliding instrumentation, six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers with ventilated discs, aluminum pedals and interior trim, and an F Sport steering wheel with paddle shifters.
Our test vehicle was also equipped with the available 24-inch head-up display and 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
Standard active safety features include pre-collision warning with cyclist and pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, land departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, overhead camera, and automatic triple projector LED headlights with high-beam assist.
Under the hood
For 2018, Lexus abandoned the historical naming convention for the LS sedan. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the previous-generation LS 460 was equipped with a 386 horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 with 367 lb.-ft. of torque. But instead of a 5.0-liter V-8 as the name might imply, the LS 500 is powered by a 3.8-liter Twin Turbo V-6 developing 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque that’s matched with a 10-speed automatic.
On the road
Reaping the benefits of a 1.3-inch increase in wheelbase over the previous version, the latest LS, even in “sportier” F Sport trim, offers a ride that favors plushness over handling, while a tight turning ratio and rear-wheel steering make it feel smaller than it really is. The F Sport’s adaptive air suspension offers drivers a choice of 5 different driving modes: eco, comfort, normal, sport and sport plus; and while switching between them slightly alters throttle mapping with more noticeable changes to steering ratio and weight and suspension response, overall ride quality in each remains serene, smooth and well-controlled, with strong brakes offering abundant stopping power, no fade, and excellent feedback through the brake pedal.
Around town and at freeway speeds, the LS feels composed and well planted. The engine pulls strongly and there’s never a problem overtaking and passing vehicles or merging into traffic.
But no matter the environment, the cabin of the LS 500 remains tranquil – drowning out external noise equally well in slow and fast-moving traffic. The noise from the engine compartment is so muted, that in suburban driving the big sedan is nearly as quiet as an EV.
At the same time, steering is numb with little feedback through the steering wheel, and not surprisingly, fuel economy for the non-hybrid LS in AWD guise is hardly spectacular – especially given the variable suspension-equipped F Sport’s 4,935 lb curb weight. With an EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city, 27 on the highway, and 21 combined fuel economy, we only managed a vehicle-measured 16.6 mpg around town.
2019 Lexus LS 500 pricing
2019 Lexus LS 500 prices start at $76,475 for a base model with RWD can top out at over $114,000 for a fully-equipped AWD 600h (hybrid) model. Our Liquid Platinum 500 F Sport tester had a base price of $84,420. A $1,220 24-inch head-up display, $1,940 Mark Levinson sound system, and $1,025 destination and delivery fee brought the total MSRP to $88,605.
The Bottom Line
Lexus achieved success in full-size luxury sedan class by offering the same level of luxury as the European marques at a much lower price point. And while the LS remains an outstanding, well-crafted vehicle, the German brands, although more expensive, offer more powerful V-8 and V-12 powertrains for their flagship models, while Korean automakers – most notably Hyundai’s Genesis brand – have appropriated the value proposition.
The capable and well-crafted Lexus now sits between these extremes in a segment that, in the last 10 years, has shrunk and become less relevant. Notable quality and outstanding dealer experience aside, the LS is no longer the clear winner that it once was in this class.